A great overseas trip can be electric, sparking connections and igniting your curiosity.
But if you try to plug in your hairdryer without an adapter, converter or transformer, you might experience fireworks of the worst kind.
Not only are the shapes of plugs in most countries different than those in the States, but the voltage often differs as well. So using a computer, electric shaver or hair care appliance could be impossible--or could fry your gear--if you don't come prepared.
Adapters are the most basic of tools. They're handy little mini plug thingys (see above) that have the shape of a U.S. plug on one side and the prongs to go into an overseas outlet on the other. If the voltage is the same where you're going as it is in the States, or your device can handle a range of voltages (most laptop, tablet and cell phone chargers today are dual voltage [100-240V]), this may be all you need. Typically adapters come in a cheap set (maybe $15-ish) that'll cover you most anywhere. Check out this list from the International Electrotechnical Commission before you go.
But I err on the side of caution and carry a converter as well (see below). This handy gadget adjusts the voltage so that your travel fan doesn't snort, smoke or stop altogether. A converter is usually more expensive than a set of adapters, but still cheap (maybe $25-ish) and well worth it--necessary, even.
My converter actually includes a range of built-in adapters like a Swiss army knife, plus two USB ports. So I flip up the appropriate adapter for the country in which I'm staying, plug the converter into the wall, and then plug in my USB cords and another something, such as a hair appliance. This leaves my adapter free for another device.
If you're traveling with something heavy duty, or you're staying for a while and bringing larger appliances, you may need to invest in a transformer. Transformers handle higher wattage devices such as my hairdryer, which gave a brief gasp on my converter and then shut down. (Mercifully, it still worked when I got home.) They're bulkier and more expensive ($35-ish), but compared with the cost of replacing whatever you're plugging into them, transformers can save your bacon. Add up the wattage of any devices you want to plug in, add 25 percent, and choose a transformer that can accommodate everything. (Or use the hotel's hairdryer, if they have one!)
It's hard to travel entirely gadget free. I mean, who doesn't need a hot pink portable power bank? But a little research and prep work can ensure that your trip is electrifying in all the right ways.